By Rich Manieri
Simply saying something over and over doesn’t make it so. I know because I’ve tried it. No matter how many times I say, “I’m a good golfer, I’m a good golfer,” the reality is I still stink, as anyone who has seen me on the course will verify.
Yet, the George Costanza it’s-not-a-lie-if-you-believe-it strategy is alive and thriving in the highest levels of government and media.
For Exhibit A – and there are others but we’ll just stick with this one – let’s examine the “Border patrol agents on horses seen whipping migrants” story. The problem with this story is it never actually happened but the president of the United States, his administration, and too many media outlets pretended it did.
At a press conference on Friday, President Biden threatened border patrol agents.
“It’s outrageous. I promise you those people will pay.” Pay how and for what, we’re not sure.
“It was horrible to see what you saw, to see people treated like they did — horses nearly running them over, people being strapped,” Biden said.
Here’s the problem, Mr. President. I didn’t see it and neither did you or anyone else.
What we did see is a photo of border patrol agents on horseback twirling reins, which are used to steer a horse. Not that anyone would mistake me for Roy Rogers, but I know that much. There are no photos of agents whipping migrants. None. Nor is there any video, in an age when there’s video of everything.
The photographer, Paul Ratje, who took the controversial images to which the president and his acolytes refer, told KTSM TV in El Paso that he never saw agents whipping anyone.
“Some of the Haitian men started running, trying to go around the horses,” Ratje, told the TV station. “I’ve never seen them whip anyone…He was swinging it, but it can be misconstrued when you’re looking at the picture.”
Ratje’s images were published on Sunday. On Monday, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas defended border patrol agents, saying they often use long reins to control horses to keep people from coming too close and getting seriously injured. But by Tuesday, Mayorkas said he was “horrified” by the images. By Wednesday, there was an investigation underway and the agents involved were on desk duty.
What changed? There were no new photos. The skeptical me wonders if Mayorkas got a phone call from someone in the White House Monday night encouraging him to take a second look at the photos and come up with a different interpretation. In other words, look at the photo as you would Monet’s “Impression, Sunrise” and see whatever you like.
Another consequence of this false story – other than truth itself – is that border patrol agents are no longer allowed to use horses. It should be noted that mounted law enforcement officers are not new. Horses have been used, mostly for crowd control, in big cities throughout the country for decades. They’ve used horses on the border because agents are often traversing unpaved roads and paths. No matter. As long as we’re reacting to something that never happened, we need to keep up the pretense. Let the investigation continue and never let the facts get in the way.
It seems that the story in Del Rio, Tx. – the real story, the worsening border crisis, the humanitarian catastrophe – was generally ignored by the media and political class until Ratje’s photos went viral. Why?
I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest that border patrol agents whipping migrants is an attractive narrative for those who favor lax immigration or open borders policies. Besides, the truth is far too embarrassing.
Now, according to Mayorkas, some 12,000 unvaccinated, COVID-untested Haitian migrants who showed up in Del Rio have been transferred into the country’s interior. So much for “Your journey will not succeed,” as Mayorkas had warned.
Vice President Harris, who was put in charge of getting control of illegal immigration at the border, has said next to nothing about the crisis, which she helped create. However, she did weigh in – surprise – on the photos of border patrol agents on horseback, saying they evoke “times of slavery.”
To recap, the Biden administration made the choice to perpetuate a false story, declare war on its own border agents, show the U.S. as a racist, intolerant country, and ensure that the media is sufficiently distracted by the lie thus diverting attention from the overarching issue which is this – if you don’t have a secure border, you will eventually cease to have a country.
Political expediency defeats reality, again.
Rich Manieri is a journalism professor at Asbury University in Kentucky. He spent some 30 years as a television and print journalist, speech writer, government spokesman, communications consultant, essayist and columnist. Rich’s first book, “We Burn on Friday: A Memoir of My Father and Me,” was published in 2015. He has won both Associated Press and Emmy awards for television news reporting as well as a Keystone Award in Pennsylvania for column writing.